Eugene Jarecki’s damning and incensing The House I Live In wears its thoroughly researched passion on its sleeve as it examines the superfluous American obsession coined by Richard Nixon as the “war on drugs.” The documentary digs deep into a conflict, largely disregarded by the general public, that has grown wildly out of control over time, having transitioned less as a war on drugs than, as the film argues, a war on class. It’s a secret war that has worn down both whole communities, whose families and futures are torn apart through its effects, as well as the justice system, disillusioned from blindly going through the motions of outrageous laws.
Personalizing the material is Nannie Jeter, the Jarecki family nanny, who reflects on her son’s death years ago from excessive drug use. The impressive assembly of personalities Jarecki interviews, including a requisitely angry David Simon, never reveal themselves to be bleeding-heart moralists, merely concerned citizens reporting on what they know and what the facts disclose. This empiricism, from the Harvard scholars to the low-level drug dealers trapped in societal purgatory, gives the film a rich texture that remains elegant in its discourse without devolving into manipulative fireworks.
Jarecki’s exhaustive research is eventually assured in its broader attack on class and its understanding that the war on drugs hasn’t even effectively decreased drug use, with the government’s initiative spiraling ever more out of control with every passing year. Because of this, other institutions are thrown under the bus at the expense of an “unwinnable” prospect, most eminently the prison systems that are in a grave crisis of overcrowding. As Jarecki shows in his conversations with various inmates, prisons are filled with more or less regular people, not jailed for murder or rape, but for possessing sometimes as little as three ounces of meth. Even with federal judges espousing the laws as unjust, it’s a state of pervasive jailing that comes with the price of years of restrictive laws and the consequence of indoctrination meeting marginalization.
This DVD edition of the film offers a crisp transfer, the HD photography blending nicely with scratchy archival film, and with just the right amount of grain remaining. But some interview sequences do show an imbalance of colors, with the grading either too dark or too light, and it appears inconsistent with the rest of the presentation. The sound is stronger, with interviewees mixing well with background noises or sound effects without wither being overtaken.
The extras have been detained. What’s left are five EPK-style deleted/extended scenes which all add up to less than 15 minutes. Of particular interest is the "Private Prisons" segment, which, in the wake of Blackwater and defense contracting, illuminates the rampant privatization the government steered toward in the aughts and how millions are made from the calamities of a distressed population, more or less caused under false pretenses.
Eluding theatrics, the doc presents a deeper investigation into the U.S. drug war with research as exhaustive as the list of negatives to describe the conflict.